Harvard School District 50 superintendent Corey Tafoya felt relieved that District 50 had a jump on one facet of e-learning before it became a reality this week.
District 50 applied for and received a Rural and Low Income Grant in the fall, federal aid designed to help districts offset challenges that urban and suburban districts do not face. Through that grant, the district bought 100 WiFi hotspots, which have been put to use with Gov. JB Pritzker’s stay-at-home order to help limit the spread of COVID-19.
Some hotspots were distributed earlier in the school year, most were passed out last week to District 50 students. Tafoya said the district ordered 100 more and will distribute about 40 of those when they arrive, hopefully by the end of this week.
With a poverty rate Tafoya said may be “1.5 to twice as much” as other McHenry County schools, the hotspots helped students whose families may not have been receiving the Internet so they could receive assignments and complete their school work.
“Things operate a little bit different for us, but luckily we had this grant last fall,” Tafoya said. “Even before any of us had heard about the coronavirus we were distributing these to families. We were lucky we had a stock, but boy they went fast once this all happened and we knew we were staying home for a while.
““It was super-helpful because we took that concern away from a lot of our families.”
To compare, Huntley, the county’s largest school with an enrollment of 3,020, passed out 24 hotspots to students K-12 since the crisis began. Alden-Hebron School District 19 superintendent Debbie Ehlenburg said District 19 has hotspots on order, but have not yet received them because of the high demand.
“We are working with our parents to make sure that we are meeting the needs of our students,” Ehlenburg said. “We were able to send two weeks' worth of work home with students and devices on March 13, so they were prepared if we didn’t come back to school after spring break. I commend our staff for providing our students and families with an enormous amount of support through these unprecedented times.”
Ehlenburg said school staff is helping families with meals, both curbside pickup and delivery.
Tafoya urged his staff for empathy during this difficult period.
“There’s so many things that we don’t know about what’s on the other end of the line,” Tafoya said. “We’re just trying to help people understand this isn’t the time for people to get all bottled up about missing homework assignments and things like this. This is a time to care for kids. That old expression ‘Now’s the time to care for who you teach not what you teach.’ That, to me, is what I keep going back to. Right now, we just need to concentrate on caring for these children.”